Hoping to better satisfy the demand among parents for early childhood programs, the Nutley Board of Education — for now at least — plans, eventually, to vacate its administrative offices to make room for more on-site pre-schoolers.
Kent Bania, who started his first year as the district’s superintendent of schools over the summer, said Nutley is one of just 27 local districts around the state to have been awarded Pre-school Expansion Aid (PEA) to accommodate full-day pre-K for ages 3 and 4.
Nutley is getting $1.2 million for the coming school year, he said. The district is sharing in a $26 million nationwide distribution of state Department of Education expanding access to pre-K for more than 2,100 children ages 3 and 4 statewide, particularly those from low-income families.
The challenge that’s been facing the district, Bania said, has been finding space sufficient to adequately handle programs like pre-K, which explains why, in shifting from half-day to full-day coverage, re-designed the media center at Washington Elementary School and the art room at Radcliffe Elementary School for pre-K classes.
A total of 60 youngsters are currently registered for the district’s on-site pre-K program, Bania said.
Because one of the state’s pre-conditions to getting the PEA funding was that local districts had to be up and running with pre-K classes by October, Bania said the district had to quickly decide what would serve as the best logistical solution to the space quandary to meet the state’s specifications.
Had Nutley voters approved a $70 million school construction referendum in 2017 to help relieve overcrowding among all grade levels, the district might have been better positioned to fill its pre-K space gap.
Given its current situation, though, Bania said the district is looking to move the BOE offices from their current quarters in the basement of the Walker Middle School less than two blocks away, to leased space on the second floor of a commercial building at 371 Franklin Ave., to create more space for pre-K classes slated to open in September 2023.
“There is a waiting list for pre-K seats for the 2023-2024 school year,” he said, and, if necessary, we’ll draw applicants’ names from a lottery. Our goal is to have 550 (pre-K) seats open in the next five years.”
Despite the district’s commitment to widen on-site pre-K opportunities, Bania said the BOE wants to be supportive of the for-profit, pre-K day care facilities in the Nutley business district “and we’re hoping to double our pre-K capacity by using our private provider realm” as a partner in expanding early childhood classes.
A statement released by the district in September added: “Early childhood education is critical to the growth of our educational community, and vital in setting up our youngest learners for success. This expansion aid is a positive opportunity for the entire Nutley community.”
Meanwhile, Bania said, the district completed renovations of the high school gym floor and bleachers and has begun configuring the high school library to a state-of-the-art media center with electronic access to information and the creation of two classroom spaces for different instructional purposes including a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) lab and robotics.
It also started a project to install a safe entranceway to Yantacaw Elementary School. It’s the last remaining school facility to get that security upgrade and the work is expected to conclude this spring, Bania said.
A group of five new school administrators have been appointed to guide the district this year:
- Brooke Benavides replaced Lorraine Restel as principal of Lincoln Elementary School. Restel led Lincoln for the past 16 years. Since 2014, Benavides has been coordinator of English Language Arts, K to grade 12.
- Michael Gurrieri takes over as district ELA coordinator after having been a teacher of English, theater and public speaking at Nutley School since 2015.
- Jackie Devore was named coordinator of physical education, health and wellness, K to grade 12, focusing on mental health, wellness and social/emotional learning. She previously served as a high school vice principal.
- Craig Jandoli takes on the role of one of the high school’s vice principals, replacing Devore. He joins the district after having served as assistant principal at Don Bosco Preparatory School in Ramsey and Hawthorne High School since 2016.
- Jenna Rubino replaces Carly Johnson as coordinator of science, K to grade 12 after having worked as science teacher at John H. Walker Middle School since 2014.
The new appointments took effect during the summer.
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York